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Sir George Young sets out his stall for the Speakership

Picture 1The election of a replacement for Michael Martin will take place a fortnight today. The Hansard Society has organised a Speaker's hustings for June 17, and confirmed participants so far are:

  • Alan Beith MP
  • John Bercow MP
  • Sir Patrick Cormack MP
  • Frank Field MP
  • Richard Shepherd MP

Last week Conservative MP for Buckingham, John Bercow, outlined why he wants to become Speaker and the approach to the job which he would take.

Today former Cabinet minister and Conservative MP for North West Hampshire, Sir George Young, enters the race, setting out his stall through an article in The Times.

He says that his views about many of the necessary reforms to Parliament are included in the report of Ken Clarke's Democracy Taskforce (on which he sat). But he goes on to summarise his platform as follows:

"Important reforms should be agreed by the House, but here are some starters. The parliamentary week is shoe-horned into Tuesdays and Wednesdays, when too many meetings are scheduled. We should move Prime Minister's Questions from Wednesday to Thursday to bring Thursdays more into play. And why should ministers have a monopoly on statements made to the House? Before the summer recess, a select committee chairman should present his or her report to the House and take questions. This might not mean much to those outside; but it would be hugely symbolic of a more assertive House, sharing with the executive decisions about time and making the place more relevant. We should wind up the Modernisation Committee - which has not met for nearly a year - and transfer its responsibilities to a committee for strengthening Parliament, chaired by a backbencher instead of a member of the Cabinet.

"On the role of the Speaker, I would identify three factors. First, I was struck by what Michael Martin said in his resignation speech: “Since I came to this House 30 years ago, I have always felt that the House is at its best when it is united.” Whoever gets the job - and there are already many good candidates - should have broad support on all sides of the House. The Speaker is more referee than player, and should be cautious about imposing on the House his or her agenda for the future. But the House is entitled to know where a Speaker is coming from, and he or she can be a catalyst for reform and effective management of how the House is run.

"Second, the Speaker should be an ambassador for the House. The doctrine that the Speaker should not speak is an odd one. I have been struck by what Helene Hayman, the Lord Speaker, has been doing quietly but effectively, putting into the public domain the work done by the House of Lords and hosting seminars on constitutional change. We should do the same, possibly in partnership, to promote a better understanding of what Parliament does as a whole.

"Finally, accountability. Too much of the decision-making process is still hidden. It may be odd to end on this example, but we must sort out how to get rid of a Speaker. Last month's muddle about whether the motion of no confidence in the Speaker could be debated and voted on was absurd. We cannot leave such a decision to the Government. We have procedures for getting rid of party leaders and prime ministers. The first job of a new Speaker should be to clarify how to get rid of him."

Jonathan Isaby


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